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The Beatles Butchered: How The Beatles Were Carved Up

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beatlesyesterdayTHE Beatles albums are the cornerstones of the popular music canon. Please Please Me, With The Beatles, A Hard Day’s Night, Beatles For Sale, Help!, Rubber Soul… They sold in their millions all over the globe.

In America, however, things were very different. The group’s early material was owned by different labels, leading to an unseemly scramble as different Beatles singles were released in competition with each other.

Eventually Capitol – part of EMI, the Beatles’ British label – took control. But even then, the chaotic money-grabbing continued.

As soon as they had 11 available tracks, including singles and B-sides, Capitol would release an album. (The American version of Help! was the worst offender, with a mere seven Beatles tracks, including singles, plus a bunch of film-score instrumentals.) This shameless policy meant that while the Beatles released an impressive five albums in Britain during the three beatlesyesterday1years from 1964 to 1966, their US total came to an extraordinary twelve. That’s an average of one album every three months.

Apart from milking the band for all it was worth, this policy also made for some strange track listings. So when early recordings became available from the forthcoming Revolver album, Capitol threw them in with a bunch of leftovers from Rubber Soul and Help! plus the singles Yesterday, Day Tripper and We Can Work It Out.

They called the album Yesterday… and Today, and it is remembered not for its contents (which by sheer luck fitted together surprisingly well) but for its notorious – and now legendary cover.

To describe this record sleeve as unusual would be an understatement. In place of the usual group shot was a picture of “the boys” in white butchers’ coats, covered in chopped-up baby dolls and pieces of meat. The executives promptly flipped their Beatle wigs and recalled the disc.

A Capitol spokesman said:

“Through a sampling of public opinion we discovered the album picture was misinterpreted… so it has been withdrawn in favour of a more conventional cover.”

The company was at pains to point out that the picture was taken in London, and was “The Beatles’ own idea of pop art satire”. It was rumoured that the band intended the picture as a comment on the way their albums were “butchered” by Capitol, but the Beatles’ own version of events is more prosaic. It was the photographer’s idiosyncratic idea, they said, and they willingly went along with it. The shoot wasn’t even intended to be for an album cover.

beatlesbutcherThe recalled albums were sent back to the shops with a pasted-on picture of the band sitting with a steamer trunk. Before this, however, a small number of promotional copies with the original picture had already been sent out. These “butcher sleeves” became collectors’ items, and a shrink-wrapped copy was sold for $457 in 1974, which seemed an incredible price at the time. Before long they were selling for thousands.

As word got around, people started to scrape off the paper “slick” from their regular copies of Yesterday… and Today in order to reveal the original picture in all its glory. The irony today is that because so many people have now have removed the pasted picture, the “trunk” version is now very rare – and valuable.

In a final twist, it turns out that a “purple” variation on the trunk cover had been produced, only to be abandoned in favour of the pasted-over version. One of the four known surviving copies of this purple sleeve was valued at $15,000.

And if you dismantle the first 100 copies of Sgt Pepper, you will find a tiny cartoon by John Lennon, showing the Queen in a compromising position with Harold Wilson. But that’s another story…

For more butchery.


Ed Barrett

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  • Is it me or are the Beatles dying in completely the wrong order?

  • Dr Eggman

    That depends on who your favourites are and whether you believed the rumours from 1967-69 about Paul being dead ie the Billy Shears references, facing backwards on Sgt Pepper, the 28IF number plate on Abbey Road, plus the out of step Paul being dressed as if he was being buried, George being the gravedigger, John and Ringo being the mourners….. God, there’d be a field day for some posters on here if that was all happening now!
    Sad that any of ’em die, but it can seem like there’s some kind of horrible curse on the Beatles…. Brian Epstein, Mal Evans, Maureen Cox, Linda McCartney, John and Paul’s Mums, Stuart Sutcliffe and many others dying young or “before their time” at least.

  • james

    Don’t get me wrong…. I am a big fan of john lennon .. but.
    He abandoned stuart sutcliffe when they were chased from a bar into an alley ?
    John jumped a fence/wall – stuart got a good beating – kicked in the head , died later from this , should john have ‘ backed his friend up ‘ ?
    He was abandoned by his mother julia . Ends up doing the same thing to his wife and small child julian , after taking up a divorced flake of an artist – yoko.
    He and yoko are never separated – he brings her to the recording sessions everyday
    she sits beside him constantly adding her imput to the music . bad move – don’t bring your wife to work with you -the others must have hated the interferance.
    Starts shooting off his mouth in rolling stone. etc – complaining about all kinds of things- social issues , paul , very opinionated , angry . Hello , I like you as a musician , who asked you for your political views on everything !! I did’nt care .
    Yoko and John become a joke – too much attention to everything to enlighten us .
    wearing all white , etc – so phoney . On a television show Mike Douglas, yoko and john phoned strangers and yoko told them that she loved them – how stupid and phoney to do that – what an idiot .
    Yoko kicks him out from the apt. in newyork to get his shit together , he goes to LA
    to hang around with harry neilson and get drunk and act like an asshole and get thrown out after heckeling a performer – yoko sends him there with a sex/girlfriend so he would not find any competition ,to her .
    At the time of his death , he has seen julian less than a few times , he did not support his ex-wife , and only gave enough $ for clothing and education. Julian had a part time job to help out himself and his mother . John was a great artist , but no much of a person . The guy who killed him thought he was a hippocrite . Anyone like to add to this or respond ? In spite of his mistakes , I am still a big fan –

  • Michael

    Dr Eggman, it was Billy Campbell who supposedly replaced Paul, not Billy Shears (that’s Ringo). on Abbey Road, George is the gravedigger, Ringo the mortician, Paul the corpse and John the preacher. get it right.

  • Dr Eggman

    It’s been a long time since I picked up my Beatles books (probably about twenty years ago today) so I’ll have to concede defeat here to Michael but you get the general idea. Anyway, it was all a load of crap invented by some American DJ, other “clues” being Paul wearing a black rose on MMT, whilst the other three wear red, Paul facing backwards on the SP sleeve (think I read somewhere Paul had chipped one of his teeth) etc, etc blah blah blah!
    James… spot on sadly. Great musician but a bit of a twat sometimes! But still also one of my heroes.

  • Michael

    Dr Eggman, absolutely was the death hoax a load of nonsense. i can’t believe people still believe it. i don’t think many of us bought into it in the first place, but was lots of fun playing our records backwards and trying to find the clues. it was more of a game than anything.

    yes Paul chipped his front tooth up in Wirral riding going end over on a scooter. Check out the Paperback Writer and Rain films shot in the garden setting, he has the chipped tooth in the films.

    didn’t mean to sound condescending in last post. you know, i get emotional over Beatles, lol.

    yes Paul is a twat sometimes, but he’s Paul McCartney: the greatest songwriter of the 20th century, maybe even the 21st. The Fireman rocks!

  • Dr Eggman

    Didn’t know he’d done it on the Wirral! My parents still live up there, near the home he bought his Dad in Gayton. I know what you mean Michael, about being defensive about them. I’m actually quietly annoyed at myself for getting it wrong, although I still have in the back of my mind that Billy Shears was supposedly the real name of Paul’s replacement, as well as Ringo’s alter ego, but I can’t find my “serious” Beatle books (eg Hunter Davies’s excellent book) where maybe I read that….?
    Not got the latest Fireman album (is it three now he’s done?) First one put me off, but love all the other stuff.

  • Clive

    You guys referring to the Fireman should get this. In the sixties I played in a band called the Clean Machine. Great name I thought but where did it come from ?

  • Penny Lane?

  • OK Yamster but what was the line ?

  • abitoftap

    He likes to keep his fire engine clean, it’s a….

    Not so sure an original butcher cover lp is cheaper than the trunk cover.